167th Airlift Wing trio completes ultramarathon

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  • By Senior Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle

A trio of 167th Airlift Wing Airmen set out to conquer an ultramarathon last spring and after logging well over 1,000 training miles, collectively, the three women collected their medals at the finish line of the 61st JFK50 Mile in Williamsport, Maryland, Nov. 18.

The veteran marathoners, Master Sgt. Sara Church, 167th Sustainment Services Superintendent, Master Sgt. Jessi Dubé, 167th Medical Group First Sergeant and Senior Master Sgt. Jacki Weddle, 167th Operations Group and Headquarters First Sergeant, completed the horseshoe shaped course that starts with a 1,000-foot ascent from Boonsboro, Md., to the rocky Appalachian Trail, followed by a switchback descent to a marathon on the C&O Canal and eight final miles of rolling hills.

The JFK50, the longest continuously run ultramarathon in the country, was inspired by President John F. Kennedy who was committed to improving the fitness of the nation. “Physical fitness is the basis for all other forms of excellence,” he once remarked. 

Church, Dubé and Weddle each attest to the positive impact running has in other aspects of their lives, especially their mental health.

“Running makes me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually better as a wife, mom, friend and co-worker,” said Dubé who first started running in 2019.

Church, who completed 10 marathons previously, joked that running helps to “burn off the crazy” but it also reminds her that she is “capable of anything.”

For Weddle, an avid runner for more than 15 years, running offers a brief escape to think and decompress. “It’s kind of like therapy for me,” she said.

The three women ran many of their training miles solo, but they came together for a few training runs and tackled the Appalachian Trail portion of the course together twice before race day.

“I would have freaked out if I waited until race day to encounter that mountain,” said Dubé.

In addition to logging many miles, each of them incorporated a few days of strength training each week and dialed in their nutritional needs for race day. “There’s snacks all the time for this type of run,” said Church. There’s also a lot of mental preparation.

Weddle said prior to race day her emotions ranged from “excited, nervous, and anxious to eventually I’m just over it and ready to get it done.”

Dubé mentally prepped with self-talk like, “You’re just running home to your family. Forward is a motion. One foot in front of the other.”

Through the race, though, nerves settled, thoughts shifted and endorphins kicked in. Church said, “I crushed it.” Weddle said she had a runner’s high and “was in the best mood” while running the race.

Dubé said she started to cry as she passed each of the last eight mile markers. “God was with me. My mind and body were still strong. I can’t tell you the insane amount of emotion I felt when crossing that finish line and seeing my husband, our twins, and my parents…I did it.”

The trio are already planning their next ultramarathon.

Weddle’s advice for anyone else considering an ultramarathon is simple, “Get a good training plan and an even better group of friends to train with.”